Ritsuka could feel the tense air the instant he opened the front door to his home. Steeling his resolve, he entered inside, barely remembering to take off his shoes at the front door. Ritsuka poked his head into the living room to see his parents sitting in the comfy chairs, facing the couch where two men in pure black suits sat. Ritsuka could feel the aura of the two men, and from the feeling of them, he could tell they were mages who’d seen combat.
“Welcome home, Ritsuka,” said Nora brightly. “How did you do on your tests today?”
One of the men on the couch turned his head to look at Ritsuka, while the other remained in a deadlock stare with Fujimaru Daichi. Ritsuka’s father was sitting in a slightly slumped forward position with his arms crossed in his lap, but the hands were flat and did not touch each other. It was as if they were waiting to grab onto objects nearby to put them to use. It was the first time Ritsuka had seen his father sitting like that, but he could only suppose it was a combat ready position. Ritsuka pulled his eyes away from the glare of the man who turned his head, a glare so strong it pierced through the reflective tinted wrap around sunglasses he wore, even inside the house, in order to answer his mother.
“I think I did well, but the results won’t be post-”
“Are you ready to leave,” asked the sunglasses suit without any hint of patience for family time.
“Leave,” repeated Ritsuka, confused.
“Your arrangements were that you would depart for your ‘Summer Job’ after your final exams were over. Are you ready to leave?”
It’s true that that was the last day of Ritsuka’s exams, but the summer holidays hadn’t started yet. Ritsuka couldn’t help but feel his family’s guests were being a little hasty.
“I need to pack fi-”
“Taken care of,” said Shades as he flipped a thumb over to Ritsuka’s inexplicably packed suitcase against the wall near the living room entrance. Shades used Ritsuka’s moment of dumbfounded shock to stand up and take a few steps around the sofa.
“Well, I haven’t even eaten-” lamely objected Ritsuka.
“You can eat on the way,” stated Shades as he picked up Ritsuka’s luggage.
The second man turned his head from the couch, and Ritsuka could see a rather prominent burn scar on and around the man’s ear as he said, “Your mother made a bento.” The scarred man lifted an arm, and there was a perfectly balanced bag containing the shapes of a bento lunchbox and a thermos, dangling from a thumb and two clasped fingers.
“It’s all your favorites,” said Nora brightly.
Ritsuka was stunned long enough for the suited men to stand along either side of him, before he asked, “Can I at least say goodbye to my parents?”
“They’ll walk you out.”
Everyone moved outside, with the two suits going to the curb, scar ear giving a wave to somewhere with his free hand. Ritsuka’s mother gave him a hug and a hope filled farewell, saying she’d miss him but was proud of him. Ritsuka’s father gave him a firm handshake and said, “No matter what happens Ritsuka… live according to your conscience. Do that, and I’ll always be proud of you.”
Daichi moved in, embraced his son with one arm without letting go of the handshake, and then stepped away.
A black sedan pulled up with a third black suit in the driver’s seat, this one with a mustacheless beard on his jaw. Ritsuka’s luggage was put into the trunk, and Ritsuka was put into the back seat next to scar ear. And then they departed.
Ritsuka gave his parents a final longing gaze as the car pulled away. After Ritsuka turned back around in his seat, scar ear looked him over and handed Ritsuka the bag with the bento in it and said, “I suggest you eat it on the plane, kid.”
When did airlines let customers bring their own meals onto the flights?
* * * * *
“This is my flight,” asked Ritsuka loudly over the sound of the airport tarmac, with flights taking off and landing in the background as he looked at the private jet the sedan had pulled up to.
“Sure as hell is, kid,” shouted scar ear in response.
“What, you thought a Chaldea candidate would be flying coach,” quipped beard jaw.
Shades walked back up to Ritsuka after stowing the carry on luggage sized bag into the plane’s cargo, and led Ritsuka up to the stairway, saying in a matter of fact tone that was now a few levels louder to compete with the ambient noise, “I can’t tell you where you’re going, or how long it’ll take to get there, because we don’t know, Candidate. All I do know is that you’ll get your next instructions when you land.”
Shades directed Ritsuka to climb the stairs, and then grabbed the handles from the outside, lifted them halfway up and said, “I also know that what you’re gonna do is important. I wish you luck on it, Candidate. And make Japan proud!”
Ritsuka had the stray thought that sunglasses guy was oddly patriotic as the hatch was sealed from the outside. Ritsuka remained there, at the hatchway for a few moments, expecting someone to meet him, but no one did. He wandered a little, saw the sealed hatch for the cockpit and the open path to the guest area of the private jet. There were about a half dozen seats in various locations for relaxation, dining at an opulent wood finished table, and business conference style facing seats near a window.
“Welcome aboard, Candidate,” came the voice over the intercom, “And please take a seat facing the front of the plane. We’ll be taking off in a few minutes. After we reach our cruising altitude you’ll be free to move around the cabin, and enjoy the provided meal on the table.”
And there was indeed a meal set on the table, under transparent coverings showcasing various high class meat dishes, salads, breads, side dishes, and fresh fruits and vegetables. They were secured to the table somehow, most likely some low key magic, Ritsuka assumed, and all of them looked high quality.
“In the meantime, buckle up, relax, and know you’re in good hands. Thank you for flying Magi-Air.”
The intercom switched off after the pilot’s self-amused joke, leaving Ritsuka alone as he felt the plane begin to move gently below him, taxiing to its take off runway. Ritsuka wasted no time securing himself into a seat, and set his bento on his lap to hold onto it during take off. During the taxiing process, Ristuka found himself studying his bento box, and then studying the table full of cuisine. Lightly, he said to himself, “I’ll be eating mom’s bento first, after all.”
Then came the feeling of pressure pushing Ritsuko into his seat as the plane quickly gained momentum, and Ritsuka experienced his first flight on an airplane, leaving the nation of Japan behind.
* * * * *
Ritsuka’s cellphone had been confiscated in the car, and he didn’t have a watch. After having dozed off at some point he had no idea how long he’d been up in the air. He also had no idea where he was when the plane landed. It was a place that was covered in snow across the entire horizon, and fresh snow was falling all around him as he left the jet behind, and was being led to a helicopter by a guy in a thick jacket and insulated pants. Ritsuka was hurried in, and was grateful when the door was sealed behind him since the helicopter cabin was heated. A pair of sound mufflers with a mic attached were handed to him and he put it on as the engine began to rev in earnest.
“Welcome to the foot of the mountain, Candidate. Any questions you need answered?”
The sound of the helicopter’s pilot came to him through the headset, the engine being too loud to let spoken word from a mouth reach the ears without aid. The pilot spoke english, but thankfully Ritsuka had learned the language from a young age from his mother.
“Yeah! Where are we?”
“Can’t tell ya!”
“Who are you?”
“Where are we going?”
Ritsuka felt miffed over obviously being played with, and then realized, “Wait, where’s my luggage?!”
“It’ll probably be passed along once it’s inspected. If not, it’s no real problem. Chaldea will supply you with your everyday living needs, I hear.”
Ritsuka found himself looking back and forth from the pilot to the jet plane he’d arrived on, quickly pondering if he could change his mind and head back… but the cowardice of such an idea left him deciding to at least see his workspace before giving thought to turning tail and heading back to Japan.
Then the helicopter started lurching and bouncing like a broncho being busted by the buffeting winds. Ritsuka found himself gripping his safety restraints for dear life as he was hauled deeper and deeper into the white blasted landscape.
* * * * *
Ritsuka dashed from the helicopter through the open hatch in the walls of the Chaldea installation to keep his exposure to the cold to a minimum, and found himself is what he could only consider an airlock of some kind. There was a backlit LED sign that had the words “Welcome Candidate. Please change clothes and press the button to continue” written on it, with an arrow pointing to the right, where some clothing was folded onto a little shelf on the wall that had his name in front of it, and a second one pointing down to a lit elevator button. There were a large number of names on the shelf, in various alphabets, but his was the last one with clothes behind it. After changing into a white uniform coat with a decorative belt over the chest and a pair of black pants, Ritsuka pressed the button. The LED screen changed the image to say, “Thank you, please continue to the next room.”
Inside the next room, which was also a lot like an airlock, Ritsuka saw a fancy black chair in the center of the room. There was a voice that said, Welcome to the data center for the future of humankind. This is the Security Organization for the Preservation of Humanity, Chaldea. Please sit in the chair for the next stage of entry procedures.
Oh, english again. Well, the Mage’s Association was primarily based out of England after all…
Being a typical Japanese, when Ritsuka was politely asked to do something, he tended to do it without a second thought. And so, Ritsuka sat in the chair.
Thank you for your cooperation. Please relax as the admission process is performed.
Securements and manacles emerged from the chair and clamped down on Ritsuka’s arms, legs, and body, pinning him into position as panels in the ceiling slide open and strange machines on poles descended from above. Ritsuka gave an inadvertent scream as the machines blared bright multicolored lights into his face, and the arms of his chair glowed brightly.
–Base Sequence: human genome confirmed
“What else would I be? A block of tofu?!”
“How is that something that can be measured?!”
The light coming from the armrests shone through Ritsuka’s arms, his mana circuits being solidly visible through his skin and clothing.
Fingerprint, voiceprint, and DNA authentication cleared. Magical Circuit assessment complete.
“You’re matching my tsukkomis for a voice print?!”
Full user identity match.
You are recognized as a member of the primates.
Nice to meet you.
“That sounds more like an insult than a greeting!”
You’re our final visitor today.
We hope you enjoy your time here.
“Well things had better not go downhill from here!”
We are very sorry. Another 180 seconds is needed to complete the admission process.
“You sure as hell don’t sound sorry!”
Enjoy a simulated battle while you wait.
Contract Servants: Saber, Lancer, Archer.
There will be no record of your score.
Please feel free to enjoy.
The scanning devices lifted back into the ceiling, but new restraints flipped up like vise plates from the head rest, pinning Ritsuka’s head in place, and a dome with an optic visor slammed over Ritsuka’s head. While shouting, “None of this was in the damn brochuuuuuuuure,” Ritsuka’s consciousness was robbed as the Master Command Training simulation for Chaldea trampled all over his mental functions.
Activating Heroic Spirit Summoning System Fate.
We hope you have a good experience as a Master for these 180 seconds.
* * * * *
The door opened to the oddly dramatic music, allowing a weary (in more ways than one) Ritsuka to languidly lurch forward into the outer halls of the Chaldea installation. Feeling fatigued, drained, jet lagged, air sick, brain scanned, and having had a few of his human rights violated… Ritsuka found the nearest open space, and in his dilapidated mental state, thought it would be a nice place to lay down and die.
As Ritsuka’s consciousness fled him, his last thought before darkness overcame him was, I don’t want to be making any more tsukkomis today…